• Architectural Digest Asks: "Will Historic Preservation Survive COVID-19?"

    June 19, 2020

    Interior of Belle Grove Plantation

    photo by: Ron Blunt

    The Belle Grove estate near Middletown, Virginia, is a National Trust Historic Site that offered virtual tours in May.

    A June 2020 article in Architectural Digest asks the timely and critical question, "Will historic preservation survive COVID-19?"

    Published on June 19, 2020, and written by Dante A. Ciampaglia, the article profiles a number of preservation organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who "have moved quickly to innovate ways to stay connected with devoted audiences, create a new cohort of allies, and continue their advocacy.

    As quoted in the article, Katherine Malone-France, the National Trust's chief preservation officer, says, "“We’ve opened up, tremendously, ways in which people experience historic places digitally in the past eight weeks, and I think that’s here to stay. This wave of digital creativity is going to have long-term benefits for all aspects of the way we think about heritage and place-based tourism."

    Read the full story to learn more about how the National Trust and other regional, statewide, and local organizations are addressing the challenges of COVID-19.

  • History Unlocked

    April 28, 2020

    You’ve surely noticed the explosion of digital content in your inboxes and social media feeds as the country has been asked to stay at home and as businesses and nonprofits have rapidly pivoted to an online-only world. The historic preservation community is no exception.

    While our National Trust Historic Sites have always been active online as part of our overall programming, this time of mandatory closures has caused us to refocus and creatively expand how we can share our vibrant historic landscapes, buildings, and objects—as well as the diverse, multifaceted stories they tell—with an exclusively virtual audience.

    Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a webinar for our Preservation Leadership Forum that focused on digital engagement, and where I was joined by Scott Mehaffey, the Executive Director at the Farnsworth House; Elon Cook Lee, the National Trust’s Director of Interpretation and Education; and Sarah Lann and Lisett Chavarela, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Director of Education and Director of Communications, respectively. The conversation highlighted that whether you are a historic site or preservation advocacy organization, we have a lot in common when it comes to the challenges and opportunities in sharing the beauty, power, and inherent value of America’s historic places with the public online.

    In that spirit, as well as in the spirit of staying safe, healthy, and socially distant, I am excited to share that the National Trust is making our annual Preservation Month entirely virtual for the first time. Starting May 1, Virtual Preservation Month will offer 31 days of rich and varied digital experiences at historic places that we hope will inspire, delight, and entertain people around the country as they come to know our work—and the historic preservation movement—in new and different ways.

    Throughout the month, the National Trust will bring you the very best in historic preservation from coast to coast, letting you get up close and behind the scenes as you revisit your favorite places, or discover and explore places you may have only dreamed of going. Whether coming to you from a National Trust Historic Site, Historic Artist Home and Studio, or National Treasure, each day will introduce you to something new.

    For example, you can spark your imagination by:

    • Taking a deep dive into the latest in preservation as you learn about the cutting-edge concepts being explored to save the National Mall’s Tidal Basin from the effects of climate change; or seeing up close Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian home, the Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria, Virginia.
    • Exploring the gardens and spring landscapes of places like Filoli in Woodside, California; or discovering fascinating spaces not seen on a regular tour at sites like Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina.
    • Listening to a concert at Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, or watching a performance of Out of the Shadows, a work about musician Bunk Johnson, commissioned by and performed at The Shadows in New Iberia, Louisiana.
    • Seeking inspiration from artists like Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner by visiting their historic home and studio in East Hampton, New York; or exploring the world-class modern sculpture collected by the Rockefeller family at Kykuit, their home in Tarrytown, New York.

    While this month of programs will shine a virtual light on the richness of the American legacy and the contributions and impact of the preservation community, we all certainly hope to be physically back in these places we love as soon as it is safe to do so.

    That said, I am heartened to think that this time of crisis and challenge may actually help us create a “new normal” for preservation—one where we continue to actively share our love for old places with audiences around the world through digital engagement, virtual experiences, and unparalleled access to beauty, culture, and history.

    Carrie Villar
    Acting Vice President for Historic Sites

  • How Main Street is Responding to the Coronavirus

    April 14, 2020

    Over the past few weeks, you’ve seen quite a few headlines about “Main Street”—specifically, the threat to Main Street businesses posed by the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, the picture for Main Street businesses is sobering. Main Street America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, just released a report finding that approximately 7.5 million small businesses are in danger of closing over the next five months if they do not quickly receive financial relief.

    During normal times, America’s main streets are a powerful economic engine powered by the authenticity of place. Since the National Trust founded its Main Streets program 40 years ago, Main Street communities have created more than 600,000 net new jobs and rehabbed more than 275,000 buildings. When we say that historic preservation helps build stronger communities in both rural and urban areas, we lead with America’s main streets.

    The next few weeks will be critical for these communities. Much hinges on the effectiveness of the federal CARES Act stimulus programs, though as of this writing, reviews are mixed in terms of the success of small businesses accessing these funds. Main Street America and our partners are working to make sure stimulus funds reach those small businesses most in need, and advocating specifically for those businesses who employ fewer than 20 people.

    Yet even amid these unprecedented challenges, I have enormous hope for the resilience of our small businesses and our Main Streets. In recent weeks, we’ve been flooded with stories of creativity, perseverance, and tenacity in the face of great hardship. For example:

    • In Petoskey, Michigan, downtown leaders are buoying local businesses by encouraging residents to buy gift cards to downtown stores to be redeemed once stay-at-home orders lift. To add an incentive to shop local, they are giving $25 in “downtown dollars” to anyone who purchases a gift card of $50 or greater value.
    • In Southern California, Leucadia 101, Encinitas 101, and Cardiff 101 Main Street Associations are partnering with the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Foundation and the Harbaugh Foundation to develop a special fund that will enable business owners to apply for grants ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.
    • And at Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association, a Chicago Special Service Area administrator is connecting local businesses to local, state, and federal resources. They are working hard to feature their local business that are providing curbside pickup, delivery services, and online sales.

    These are just a handful of the hundreds of examples that abound. For four decades, the Main Street America program has supported preservation-based revitalization in more than 2,000 downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts in nearly every state in the country. Our network of intrepid Main Street leaders steered their communities through the explosion of online shopping, the Great Recession, the dot-com bomb, the proliferation of big box stores, and much more.

    We have every faith our Main Street leaders are rising to—and will rise above—today’s challenge, too. To do so, they will need the help of Americans to support them through this challenging period.

  • Championing Preservation in Challenging Times

    April 8, 2020

    Over the last two weeks, National Trust staff have reached out to more than 150 state and local preservation organizations, including our colleagues in the National Preservation Partners Network and many others. We are also checking in with our grantees, government agencies, and members of our networks such as Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios.

    Our goal: to see how these organizations—critical to our country’s ongoing preservation work—are coping with the rapid changes brought on by the coronavirus.

    What did we find out? That these champions of preservation are demonstrating their resilience, creativity, and community connections during this crisis. For almost every group, their ongoing, pre-virus projects continue remotely as the organization also conducts financial analyses related to cancelled fundraisers, closed properties, and other economic impacts.

    Just as we at the National Trust are, state and local preservation organizations remain focused on advocating for historic places as essential to strong communities. And thanks to creative digital programs, it has never been easier to connect with their work and fascinating historic places around the country, like Baltimore Heritage’s Five-Minute Histories video series; the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia’s “Building Philadelphia” speaker series; Los Angeles Conservancy’s online Storytime for Kids with books about places, architecture, and preservation; and many more.

    Some partners are keeping their gardens and grounds open to the public as places of beauty and respite, such as the spectacular 250-acre landscape at Olana, the Hudson River Valley home of painter Frederic Church and part of the New York State Parks system (as well as Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios). Or they are sharing them virtually, like with daily Instagram tours of the spectacular gardens at Filoli, a National Trust Historic Site operated by our long-time partners at the Filoli Center, led by the Site’s Director of Horticulture, Jim Salyards.

    The National Trust wants to do everything we can to support our partners. In line with our strategic priority of Investing in Preservation’s Future, we have launched a webinar series to help organizations navigate their current challenges. In response to requests for information on a range of federal programs, our Government Relations and Legal staff, along with partners from the Historic Tax Credit Coalition, provided a Federal Policy Response webinar on Thursday, April 2, attended by more than 600 people. The next two webinars in our series will also respond directly to what partners told us they needed—Best Practices in Fundraising and Messaging, and Digital Engagement with Historic Places.

    Like many other preservation organizations, the National Trust also has important partners beyond those with missions similar to ours. For example, Ben Spungin and Kirk Probasco opened Alta Bakery just a year ago at Cooper Molera Adobe, a National Trust Historic Site, and they are helping to write the next chapter in this property’s history as they operate in a building that was home to Monterey’s first commercial bakery more than a century ago.

    A month ago, Alta Bakery was named the best new restaurant in Monterey. But this month finds them significantly challenged by the COVID-19 crisis. Like so many small businesses, they have risen to the occasion, quickly pivoting to packages of baked goods and coffee for pick-up and staying engaged with their community through social media. And while the beautiful event center on site, the Barns at Cooper Molera, is closed, they are generously allowing Alta Bakery to use their grills to prepare their popular nightly suppers for pick-up.

    At the National Trust, we are both proud and grateful to be a part of a network of preservationists of all kinds, all across this country, who remain committed to the vitally important work of using historic places to strengthen their communities.

  • How I (Safely) Toured Montpelier

    March 31, 2020

    Yesterday, at one of our National Trust Historic Sites, I was pleased to join a group of almost 50 people for a tour. We were at Montpelier in Orange, Virginia, which was home to President James and Dolley Madison and a significant community of free and enslaved African Americans across two centuries.

    Don’t worry, I was still social distancing: Our walk in the woods together at Montpelier was virtual.

    During the tour, Matt Reeves, Montpelier’s Director of Archaeology and Landscape Restoration, guided us through some of the newly discovered sites on the property. Among them were remarkable irrigation ditches, some extending for a quarter of a mile, that had been engineered and dug by enslaved people to make it possible to grow tobacco in bottomlands. As Matt reminded us, over time this landscape has been planted and harvested repeatedly, gone fallow, and then turned to forest—all the while holding its rich stories until we discover them anew.

    Or, to put it more simply: Montpelier is resilient. This site, like thousands upon thousands of historic places across the nation, embodies our capacity to persevere, adapt, and endure in ways that are incredibly inspiring, especially in a time of crisis and uncertainty.

    Another such place is the home of Dr. Justina Ford in Denver, Colorado, which just received a grant from our 2019 Partners in Preservation program, sponsored by American Express. Dr. Ford was Colorado’s first licensed female African American doctor, but she was denied access to hospitals because of her race. Instead, she practiced gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics from her home for half a century, treating patients who were not able to access other medical care. They often paid her in all that they had—their own goods and services.

    Across her remarkable career, Dr. Ford experienced discrimination and unfairness over and over again. But she kept working, kept caring, kept healing. Fortunately, Dr. Ford’s home was saved from demolition in the 1980s by the Five Points Community and Historic Denver, and its stories are still told there at the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center. Today, her home and her story remind us of the deep legacy of courage and perseverance that undergirds the heroic medical professionals on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus today.

    Historic places also yield contemporary stories of resilience. In historic commercial districts across the country, small businesses are showing incredible creativity and adaptability as they continue to serve and sustain their communities during this crisis. Our colleagues at Main Street America are collecting and sharing these stories online, from the inspirational quotes posted in Downtown Albany Georgia’s storefronts to a virtual farmer’s market sponsored by Downtown SLO in San Luis Obispo, California.

    Through their powerful stories and capacity to adapt, historic places offer comforting and inspiring evidence of both our cultural and our natural resiliency. At the National Trust, we’ll continue to tell the stories of places that sustain us, and we hope you will continue to share with us the places that are helping you get through these challenging times. While we often talk about saving places, it is worth remembering that sometimes those places save us right back.

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